Kazakh what and Kyrgyz who were my first thoughts when I sat down for a briefing on a brand new touring holiday at work. Even with my love of maps I had no idea where these countries were apart from somewhere in Central Asia. My first thoughts were why would anyone want to travel there, let alone for a holiday, however as the itinerary for this new tour was talked through and the focus on nature and the mountainous landscapes began the selling point of the tour my initial confused thoughts of these countries began to change due to my love in beautiful landscapes. Typically ever since this new tour has been created and published I have seen countless articles, photographs and mentions of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan so I have decided to delve deeper and give a brief synopsis of what these countries have to offer to an adventurer seeking new lands to discover.
Kazakhstan has become the most economically advanced country out of all the ‘stans’ thanks to it’s abundant oil reserves and other valuable minerals. This has meant that better standards of accommodation and transportation can be found here, better than anywhere else in Central Asia in fact!
With all this wealth from oil numerous flashy, expensive and impractical buildings have risen up from the contrasting flatlands to form the countries new capital city, Astana. A city built in the middle of the northern steppe could arguable be a very strange place to re locate the countries capital to. However as a city built with the same ideals as Dubai then they suddenly appear very similar in style, extravagance and location. The size of the buildings are striking in contrast to the vast flatlands that Astana is surrounded by adding to the strangeness of this man made 21st century city. When I look at photographs of this city, I can picture myself being as small as an ant amongst the huge futurist buildings and huge empty spaces almost waiting for a futurist spaceship to fly by.
It is what is found beyond the cities that will inspire adventurers to come to Kazakhstan, whether it’s hiking up snow capped mountains or hiking amongst the green valleys and gorges.
Photo by Ken and Nyetta
Almaty the former capital of Kazakhstan is still the country’s main hub for commercial exchanges and still resides the largest amount of the countries population. This leafy city with it’s spectacular backdrop of the snowcapped Trans-lli Alatau mountains has always been a more appealing destination especially with it’s Russian influence of architecture. Today the rich and wealthy have all the luxuries of expensive apartments, posh cars and glamours shopping malls, whilst the other way of life is found in the suburbs of the city.
A do-able day excursion from Almaty is to visit the Sharon Canyon, also known as the Grand Canyon’s Asian equivalent and often called ‘the little brother of the Grand Canyon’ but do not let the smaller size put you off visiting. The multicoloured rock formations are a very popular sight to an adventurers eye. At 220km away from Almaty this is quite a full on day day trip with a lot of time spent travelling and precious time at the canyon itself.
Photo by Jonas Satkauskas http://www.satkauskas.com
Bishkek and Ala Archa Park
Just 235km west of Almaty you can cross the border into Kyrgyzstan and head towards the capital city, Bishkek. With the city being located at the foot of the Tian Shan mountain range Bishkek is a perfect stop-over destination if you are planning on discovering the mountains and it’s alpine lakes. A mere 45 minute driver south of Bishkek you can find the Ala Archa National Park, here you can indulge yourself on hiking routes at different strengths from walking in the park’s photogenic gorge and up to the waterfall, or you can challenge yourself and hike to the Ak-Say Glacier. You can even pitch up your tent on the mountain side if you are truly backpacking around this area as wild camping is legal in Kyrgyzstan.
Even though Kyrgyzstan is a land locked country you can still find many locals and tourists alike enjoying beach resorts thanks to the mountains. Roughly 280km east of Bishkek you will find the world’s second largest alpine lake, Issyk-Kul, after the well known Lake Titicaca found in Peru/Bolivia. Thanks to the depth of the lake as well as the thermal activity and low salinity levels the lake never freezes even in the fierce cold winters of Central Asia. The lake has it’s own kind of micro climate which has led to beach resorts being built around the lake but rather than your holiday photographs featuring the traditional blue skies and palm trees you will have the stunning snowcapped mountains as your backdrop. Many tourists come here not for the beaches but for the hiking. Cholpon-Ata is the main resort town around the lake and attracts the most number of visitors in the summer months, as well as the town of Karakol located near the eastern point of the lake.
Barskoon Gorge and Skazka Gorge
I am beginning to realise that this country is practically made of gorges, valleys and mountains so if you are not an outdoors kind of person just cross this country off your list. Both these gorges listed above can be found off the southern shores of Lake Issyk Kul. As you walk through Barskoon gorge the landscape begins with steppe grasses and rare shrubbery with huge Tien-Shan trees growing either side on the slopes of the mountains. However it is the waterfalls found in Barskoon gorge which make it popular and the most picturesque waterfalls have been baptised with unusual names such as Tears of a Bars, Oldman Beard, Splashes of Champagne and Cup of Manas. A little way down the road you can find the next gorge, Skazka gorge, also affectionally know as fairytale gorge. It was given this name due to it’s strange rock formations. The power of mother nature especially the wind in this case has formed this gorge into various amazing sculptures and formations which is what attracts it’s visitors. Many formations have been nicknamed after well known sites that they resemble such as The Chinese Wall – (The Great Wall of China).
In summary due to the vast flatlands and sky scrapping mountains that can be found in both these countries they still continue to follow in their nomadic heritage. However it is these natural landscapes that now attract people to come and visit these countries, even with a stop over at the high rising cities which are being built from the countries wealth.
You will notice my lack of photographs in this post, which upsets me greatly as I feel like good photographs do half the job of inspiring others, however please just Google some of these places and browse some of the amazing photographs that make these countries come alive!